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Stealth Democracy: Authoritarianism and Democratic Deliberation


Peter Muhlberger

University of Nebraska at Lincoln, US
About Peter

Peter Muhlberger is a Research Fellow at the Public Policy Center at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. Dr. Muhlberger received his Ph.D. in political science from the University of Michigan. He designed and directed research on Carnegie Mellon University’s Virtual Agora Project, a NSF-funded grant project investigating the political, social, and psychological effects of computer-mediated political engagement. He was also principal investigator on the Deliberative E-Rulemaking Project, a NSF-funded project applying natural language processing and multi-level deliberation to federal agency online rulemaking.

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In Stealth Democracy, Hibbing and Theiss-Morse seek to show that much of the American public desires “stealth democracy”--a democracy run like a business with little deliberation or public input. The authors maintain that stealth democracy beliefs are largely reasonable preferences, and the public does not want and would react negatively to a more deliberative democracy. This paper introduces an opposing “authoritarian stealth democrats thesis” that suggests that stealth democracy beliefs may be driven by authoritarianism and a variety of related orientations including poor political perspective taking and low cognitive engagement. These orientations may be ameliorated through democratic deliberation. Hypotheses are tested with survey and experimental data from deliberations with a RDD sample of 568 Pittsburgh residents and of 99 Canadian young adults. Using confirmatory factor analysis and OLS regression with cluster-robust standard errors, the paper finds that authoritarianism and related orientations strongly explain stealth democracy beliefs among deliberation participants and that deliberation significantly reduces stealth democracy beliefs and factors behind these beliefs.

How to Cite: Muhlberger, P. (2018). Stealth Democracy: Authoritarianism and Democratic Deliberation. Journal of Public Deliberation, 14(2), 7. DOI:
Published on 14 Dec 2018.


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